Trump plan erases ‘land for peace,’ but will Israeli annexation follow?

“The United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel,” Donald Trump stated.

US President Donald Trump speaks on the Deal of the Century  (photo credit: HAGAY HACOHEN)
US President Donald Trump speaks on the Deal of the Century
(photo credit: HAGAY HACOHEN)
It is no accident that the “Deal of the Century” allows for the unilateral annexation of West Bank settlements in the early stages of the process rather than at the end.
With that one step, US President Donald Trump last week changed the contours of the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least in the American and Israeli arenas.
Effectively, Trump has erased the “land for peace” axiom that has been a staple of the US policy with respect to the conflict since the 1967 Six Day War.
In the immediate aftermath of that conflict, Israeli officials presumed that the territory it had acquired in the war would be used as a trading chip for a peace deal with the Arabs.
The Egyptian-Israeli peace deal of 1979 involved Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Desert, including the evacuation of 12 settlements.
The 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2008 Annapolis process that followed presumed an Israeli withdrawal from the territory it had acquired in the West Bank in exchange for peace, with the idea that the borders of that withdrawal would be set by Israelis and Palestinians during negotiations.
For the last 53 years, the UN has presumed that any resolution to the conflict would be based on the pre-1967 lines – and under Annapolis, Israel accepted that premise.
When Trump unveiled his peace plan on Tuesday, he erased the diplomatic sanctity of the pre-1967 lines when it comes to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He took much of the conversation regarding borders off the table by allowing Israel to apply sovereignty to all the West Bank settlements, irrespective of whether the peace process leads to a demilitarized Palestinian state. He therefore effectively erased the pre-1967 lines and the “land for peace” concept from the debate.
“The United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel,” Trump stated.

IN ISRAEL, the discussion of Trump’s peace plan has centered first on the plans viability, and then on the Israeli electoral politics that surround it.
Forget about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel for a moment. Instead, think Evangelical support for Trump on Election Day: November 3, 2020.
This is about the Bible and its heartland in Judea and Samaria – and the love that Trump’s American voter base has for that heartland.
Since taking office in January 2017, the president has spoken often of his intention to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, referring to it as the “Deal of the Century,” but he had refrained from releasing it until Tuesday.
The US president was all smiles as he unveiled the document at a press conference in the White House, with Netanyahu by his side. Trump took credit for making plausible that which had previously seemed impossible: resolving the conflict.
“They say it’s the toughest deal ever to make. In business, when I have a tough deal, people would say, ‘This is tougher than the Israelis and the Palestinians,’” Trump told the supportive White House audience. “They used it as an excuse, meaning that was always the standard. Actually, there’s nothing tougher than this one – but we have to get it done.”
But can Trump get it done, given that he is a president running for re-election – and that his plan, which is based on a schedule he created, will take four years to complete?
Trump unveiled the plan without Palestinians on the podium, and at what would seem the least opportune of moments, with less than a year left of his first term. Unless Trump is re-elected, he cannot “get it done.”
So what can Trump do within the next nine months?
He can show his voters what he has done – and the difference he could make if he is allowed to stay in office.
When Netanyahu first visited Trump in Washington in February 2017, he could only dream that Trump would relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognize Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and allow for unfettered settlement construction.
But those dreams slowly became reality. Trump has recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognized that city as Israel’s capital. At the time, Trump did not clarify the US position on Jerusalem’s borders.
On Tuesday, Trump became the first US president to clearly declare American recognition of areas of Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 lines as part of sovereign Israel, both now and in the future. According to his plan, all of Jerusalem, save for what is outside the barrier, will be under Israeli sovereignty. It is as close to US recognition of a united Jerusalem as Israel has ever received.
In 2018, the Trump administration erased from its lexicon the concept widely held by the international community that settlement construction is a stumbling block to peace. In 2019, it followed that with a declaration that settlements were not inconsistent with international law. At the White House last week, Trump went further than any other US president has ever gone and stated that “the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel” – effectively, all of the West Bank settlements.
But is that enough – or does he have to green light Israeli action on the matter prior to November 3?
INITIALLY, Israel was given the impression that it could move forward immediately. There was talk of a cabinet vote on the matter already this Sunday at the weekly ministerial meeting.
Those plans ground to an immediate halt on Thursday, after US special adviser Jared Kushner, the lead US official on the peace plan, said that nothing would happen until after Israel’s March 2 election. Settler leaders fear that the application of sovereignty is now frozen. As of Friday, no date had been set for a cabinet vote, or in fact any cabinet meeting this week.
The speculation is that there is a difference of opinion on the matter between Kushner and Friedman, and that Kushner got cold feet, fearing a negative response from the Arab world. That fear would have to be measured against pressure from the Evangelical community to move forward. The peace plan, formally called, “Peace to Prosperity,” is built in such a way that Israeli sovereignty over settlements is one of the few concrete things that can happen now, within the next nine months – with just a nod from the White House.
Sovereignty is not something that can happen under any president. If Israel moves forward, the US can block any UN Security Council moves against the Jewish state, because America has veto power there.
But if the matter waits for too long and Trump loses the election, the opportunity to apply sovereignty with US support is lost, since a Democratic president is unlikely to support any Israeli annexation moves, nor would that president offer Israel support in the international arena.
Trump may have to choose between the Arab nations and his Evangelical voters. Similarly, Netanyahu may have to choose between his right-wing base and Trump.
For three elections now, Netanyahu has managed to maintain his role as the head of a right-wing bloc of parties, even though he has a much more narrow sovereignty vision than some of his partners.
In this third election, he is being hammered from the right by Yamina Party head and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who is ready to annex all of Area C – and doesn’t care whether he has US support.
If the US continues to ask Netanyahu to hold off, he has to gamble that voters will focus on his achievements to date, including the sovereignty declaration over West Bank settlements, rather than his failure to have annexed settlements.
To put what happened last week in perspective, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew militarily from the Gaza Strip and evacuated 21 settlements there and four others in northern Samaria in 2005. He did this in exchange for a US pledge that Israel would not have to evacuate all the settlements and could retain the high population centers known as “the blocs” in any future peace deal.
Netanyahu secured a US promise that Israel could retain all of the settlements, without having to evacuate a single one. This is an unheard of achievement within the annals of Israeli-American diplomacy.
But the right-wing is impatient. They fear that if sovereignty over the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria does not happen now, it will get bogged in committees and endless US promises – and this nine-month window of opportunity will be lost.
AFTER 53 YEARS without a two-state resolution to the conflict, it is easy to dismiss the significance of failed peace proposals, most of whose names have been forgotten. But if those peace deals did not actually resolve the conflict, each one did manage to change and mark it.
The most significant process was the 1993 Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority and divided the West Bank into three sections: areas A, B and C.
Areas A and B constituted 40% of the West Bank and were placed under the auspices of the PA. Area C, made up of the remaining 60% of the West Bank, was under Israeli military and civilian rule.
All Israeli settlements are located in Area C, where for the last two decades, a land battle has waged in which Palestinians and Israelis pushed to solidify their hold over that area by building there, legally or illegally.
The Trump peace plan leaves intact the Palestinian Authority, but redraws the map of the West Bank, creating only two land distinctions: territory under the auspices of the PA and sovereign Israeli territory. Effectively, it leaves Israel 30% of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and the Palestinians receive the remainder of the West Bank, including 30% of Area C.
In exchange for US support for sovereignty, Israel would have to obligate itself for four years not to build new settlements or expand existing ones by encroaching on the 30% of Area C territory placed under the auspices of the PA. Effectively, it would end the Israeli side of the battle for Area C, as civil disobedience tactics of “build first and get permits later” would no longer be tolerated.
But no blueprint was provided for what happens if Israel does not annex now. If no action is taken in the next nine months, it is likely that during that time, the battle for Area C is likely to zoom into hyper drive. Now that Israel knows what the US lines are, settlers and Palestinians will likely move to build illegally in Area C in the hope of impacting the map and gaining the maximal amount of territory.